The CIA Claims It Will No Longer Use Vaccination Campaigns In Spy Operations

A child receives polio drops during a polio eradication programme in Jammu, February 19, 2012. The polio eradication programme in India aims to immunize every child under five years of age with the oral polio vaccine. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

The White House released a letter Monday promising that the CIA will no longer use vaccination campaigns as a cover for its intelligence operations.

Lisa O. Monaco, Obama’s senior counter terrorism adviser, wrote in a letter to a dozen deans of various U.S. public health schools that the CIA has now banned the practice of making “operational use” of vaccination programs.

This announcement comes three years after the CIA set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program in Pakistan as part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The goal of the campaign was to try to obtain DNA evidence of bin Laden’s location in his compound in Abbottabad.

The CIA had previously defended the tactic as a necessary measure. “The vaccination campaign was part of the hunt for the world’s top terrorist, and nothing else,” an unnamed official told The Washington Post in 2011. “If the United States hadn’t shown this kind of creativity, people would be scratching their heads asking why it hadn’t used all tools at its disposal to find bin Laden.”

The blowback from the campaign has been substantial. The Taliban has routinely targeted medical personnel involved in polio vaccination in the belief that they could be working in tandem with the CIA.

The World Health Organisation, for the first time ever, declared on Monday that the spread of polio is an international public health emergency. The vast majority of new cases have been reported in Pakistan, in part due to the failure of vaccination drives.